Let’s face it: the Christian God can be truly embarrassing.
For at least two reasons:
First, the Christian God doesn’t make sense. He is unfathomable. We can’t figure him out. The Christian Scriptures even admit to this:
In Egypt a very frustrated Moses says, “Ever since I went to the pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5.23). True enough.
The prophet Isaiah, frustrated and bewildered, asks, “Why, LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?” Great question.
And how many times does the psalmist register a complaint? “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?” “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
And let’s not even talk about Job: like a slick politician, God responds to Job’s penetrating questions with answers to questions Job hadn’t asked.
For all of the Apostle Paul’s theological genius, in his letter to Christians in Rome, after eleven chapters of seeking to declare and defend God’s righteousness, at times having to resort to ad hominem argumentation (“But who are you to talk back to God?”), he just gives up:
“How unsearchable are his judgments
and his paths beyond tracing out.
Who has known the mind of the Lord?”
(But this is perhaps not too surprising given that Paul couldn’t even understand himself: “I do not understand what I do”–Rom. 7.15.)
But it gets much worse. At the center of Christianity is a Jewish peasant and self-professed messiah whose final breaths are spent raising an unanswered question to the dark and displeased heavens: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” True to Psalm 22, Jesus dies without any answers: “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (v. 2).
Undeniably, then, the Christian God–the one whom Jesus called his father–doesn’t make sense. He is unfathomable. He cannot be figured out. Is this not incredibly embarrassing?
But, second, the Christian God is embarrassing, not only because he’s unfathomable but because he’s unfashionable. He’s always out of date. He isn’t progressive enough. Exhibit A: his sexual ethics. Does anybody (of any sexual identity) like these?
Or, related to that, his views on marriage. Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t like what he has to say about marriage:
“If this [i.e., Jesus’ teaching on marriage] is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry.”
Sadly, Jesus didn’t budge on this one–we 21st-century Westerners know better. (If only Jesus had known what we know now….)
But Jesus didn’t budge on, well, anything. Read the gospels and see: he never negotiates. Ever. Such inflexibility is undoubtedly insensitive and grossly lacking in sophistication, failing to account for how complicated our lives are. Absolute ultimata–like “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”–won’t win a hearing with anybody. Let’s just be honest: the whole “cut off your hand / gouge out your eye” is more than a little macabre–something out of a Halloween horror flick.
Such insensitivity, such stale and self-confident demands upon others–telling them how to live their lives–is surely asking for trouble. Do that long enough around the wrong people, and you could get yourself killed. And who could blame them for it?
We could list many more ways the Christian God is unfashionable: he ordains evil even though we all know that nothing good could from it; he reserves the right to judge how and when he sees fit, which, as we all know, is so arbitrary.
So the Christian God is as unfashionable as he is unfathomable and, thus, ever so embarrassing. But as disturbing as all this is (or ought to be–at least for would-be followers of Jesus), it is not as disturbing as the following question:
Who would ever fashion such an unfashionable, unfathomable God?
That is, who would produce–or prophesy in the name of–such an impenetrable and unpopular God? How could we regard such a wholly different, very “other” deity as a mere Feuerbachian projection of the human self? Who would conjure or concoct such a god (“Hey, I know, let’s dream up a god who demands that we do things none of us wants to do”)?
Is it not true that we can fully figure out only what we ourselves have formed? that we can fathom only what we ourselves have fashioned?
And with this is a second (equally disturbing?) question: in our deeply unjust world, will a fondness for the fashionable ever lead to our flourishing?
The authors of Scripture did not expect the Creator to be fathomable. Quite the opposite. And, given the injustice both within them and around them, they did not want their Rescuer to be fashionable (“those who wear fashionable clothes are in [very corrupt] king’s palaces”). Rather, they rejoiced at words of Israel’s God, recorded by Isaiah:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways and my thoughts higher than yours.”
This wholly Otherness of Israel’s God (for which he is called “the Holy One of Israel”), this profound transcendence induced a repentance that, according to Isaiah, would be warmly welcomed:
“Let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD,
and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
And it is precisely this Otherness of Israel’s God that, according to Psalm 22, was on Jesus’ heart as he gave up his spirit just after offering up his unanswered questions, crucified for being far more than merely unfashionable:
“My God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer,
by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One.”
Jesus found a self-forgetting freedom, not frustration, in his Father’s unfathomability. And, as ever, he beckons us to follow him into an unwavering faith in One who cannot be fathomed by men, probably because he was not fashioned by men.